NI mental health strategy funding needs tenfold increase to meet demand, says Professor Siobhán O’Neill

You can read the Mental Health Champion's Statement on the End of Year One of the Mental Health Strategy Implementation here.  

The absence of a Stormont Executive has left ‘little hope’ that full funding will be available for the implementation of the Mental Health Strategy in the coming year, Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Champion has said.

In her end-of-year statement, Professor Siobhán O’Neill has said the amount required to fully deliver Year 2 of NI’s Mental Health Strategy is almost ten times the £2.5 million allocated in 2022-23.

A budget of £24.38 million is needed to fully implement Year 2 of the strategy, with the Department of Health stating they cannot deliver the Strategy within the existing budget.

Last year’s funding shortfall – which amounted to over £7 million – has led to ‘painfully slow’ progress on the expansion of services, Ms O’Neill said.

"Mental ill-health causes significant suffering in our population, and many people are not able to access the right services. The Mental Health Strategy is the plan for transformation to bring about the necessary changes,” she said.

“Whilst the funding for the Strategy was included in a draft 3-year budget, this budget was not approved before the Executive dissolved.

"Poor mental health costs NI £3.4 billion annually. A piecemeal or reduced implementation cannot achieve the necessary reform. People in NI will wait longer or never receive the treatments and support they urgently need.

"A plan for a Regional Crisis Service is now available, but progress on the service itself, particularly the expansion of services away from the Emergency Departments, has been painfully slow.”

Ms O’Neill said there had been little progress on the establishment of a Mother and Baby Unit, and though the development of specialist perinatal mental health services had been a success, they had experienced recruitment challenges.

"Workforce is a significant difficulty across mental health services, and it is a problem I consistently hear about when I visit services on the ground,” she said.

"They find it impossible to recruit qualified clinicians, and when they do, they are moving from different parts of the Service, leaving gaps elsewhere.

"Service users tell me that they still have difficulties accessing their key workers, and a lack of continuity means that people still need to repeat painful stories to different services without ever getting treatment that is beneficial.”

The funding shortfall has meant actions detailed in the Mental Health Strategy will need to be prioritised.

"The absence of an Executive means that there is little hope that full funding will be available in Year 2, I am therefore now in the difficult position of considering which actions need to be prioritized, based on evidence of need, for my guidance to the Department of Health,” said Ms O’Neill.

"I am also exploring alternative funding sources for key actions. I and others are looking at ways of maximizing the benefits of existing work, so that we spend money effectively and create efficiencies within the system.

"Many people are working in the background to expand services to save lives and stem the flow of distressed individuals into a pressurized system.

"They will not be enough. We need funding allocated for the full implementation of the Mental Health Strategy for the transformation that is necessary, to reduce the suffering and create a better Northern Ireland for everyone.”

Link to article: